Augusta Free Press

Environmental groups critical of Trump administration offshore drilling plan

The Trump administration today released a draft of the proposed 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program that would allow annual lease sales off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The draft plan omits the 50-mile buffer off the coast previously included in the Obama administration’s five-year plan.  Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a proposal last week to roll back safety rules put in place in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which would bring drilling closer to shore and make it more dangerous for the communities who depend on the coast and its fisheries.

“Today’s announcement by the Trump administration willfully ignores coastal governors, communities, businesses, and elected leaders up and down the coast who’ve made it clear they don’t want drilling off their shores,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Offshore drilling threatens local communities, economies, and everything that makes the South a special place. In 2016, Southern communities along the Atlantic coast successfully fought off an attempt to bring offshore drilling to their coasts, and they will do the same again.”

More than 140 communities, including Wilmington, Virginia Beach, Charleston, and Savannah, and thousands of businesses, trade groups, and tourism associations have passed resolutions opposing Atlantic drilling and seismic testing.  Virginia Beach passed a resolution against offshore drilling and seismic testing after previously supporting offshore drilling.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, and drilling offshore poses unjustifiable risks to the Bay, its living resources, the tourism economy, and the many jobs that depend on clean water,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker.

“The waters off the mouth of the Chesapeake are as much a part of the Bay system as all the fresh water rivers that feed it. These ocean waters play a critical role in supporting the Bay’s natural resources. For example, all of the Bay’s blue crabs utilize these waters during their early life stages. An oil spill at the wrong time of year could destroy an entire year class. “We are beginning to see progress in Bay restoration. Now is not the time to put that progress at risk,” Baker said.

The Trump administration’s proposal defies formal requests from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe that their states be omitted from the five-year plan. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam have also voiced opposition against seismic testing and offshore drilling.

The Trump administration has also taken steps to clear the way for offshore drilling by ordering the streamlining of seismic permitting.  In June, the Trump administration issued draft authorizations to harm marine mammals, a final step in approving oil and gas exploration through dynamite-like blasts every 10 seconds for weeks on end.

Even before drilling is underway, seismic blasting would cause significant harm to the commercial and recreational fishing industries as well as dolphins, sea turtles and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a population that suffered catastrophic losses this year.

In March of 2016, coastal opposition expressing concerns about impacts to local economies and the environment convinced the Obama administration to scrap a controversial plan to open the Atlantic coast to industrial oil and gas development for the first time, a move that would dramatically change coastal communities and jeopardize coastal economies.

“Trump’s reckless plan for a drilling ‘do over’ must be rejected,” said Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director Kate Addleson. “This plan was hastily concocted, has no basis in science, employs faulty economics and blatantly disregards the flood of public opinion that strongly opposes opening the Atlantic Ocean to risky, dirty and unnecessary offshore drilling.

“For over 30 years there has been a ban on drilling off our coast, and for good reason. A healthy, biodiverse environment is the lifeblood of our vibrant coastal economy, which depends entirely on clean beaches and ocean waters to sustain multi-billion dollar a year tourism, fishing and aquaculture industries that employs tens of thousands of Virginians,” Addleson said.



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